Professional Profile

 

Introduction

I have produced this page for prospective employers, in an attempt to address ‘selection criteria’ that are common to the sort of jobs I am interested in. I have found that addressing selection criteria separately can be very repetitive, especially as one’s career advances and extensive experience is gained in multiple roles. The aptitudes and skills covered by ‘selection criteria’ are usually developed over time, incrementally and interdependently, according to the demands and opportunities existing in different jobs. Therefore, in what follows I have opted for a chronological narrative. Sometimes I have indicated specific selection criteria, while at other times they are implied, because they are obvious and drawing attention to them would unnecessarily lengthen the text. Supporting documents can be supplied where necessary. I believe that this narrative approach also makes for a more interesting read, and it situates the acquisition and development of skills in the context of a meaningful personal biography.

Dublin

My academic background is in Philosophy, which I studied to Master’s level at University College Dublin. This subject demands a high level of literacy, both in terms of analytical skills and clarity of expression. I was awarded a postgraduate scholarship on the basis of first-class honours in Logic, and Moral and Political Philosophy, in my BA. My postgraduate dissertation involved research in the Philosophy of Language, particularly Hermeneutics (i.e. interpretation theory) and Semiotics (i.e. sign theory).

As a postgraduate I was employed as a casual tutor to first-year Philosophy students, which involved small-group discussion of lecture material as well as essay marking. I also had temporary jobs outside academia (including St Vincent’s Hospital, Hotel Conrad, and the Centre of English Studies). At the end of my postgraduate degree, my Professor complimented me on my writing, and wrote a letter of recommendation to Cambridge University Library (CUL), enabling me to access the extensive materials there.

Cambridge

I moved to Cambridge in 1995 and began conducting preliminary research in CUL on a proposed PhD topic. I was provisionally accepted into King’s College, pending my application for funding from the British Council. The latter was unsuccessful, however, and I turned my attention to full-time employment.

I had already become a bookseller at Heffers, the top academic bookstore in the town, a position I held and greatly enjoyed until 1999. Eventually I had responsibility for running the Department of Oriental and African Studies. Our stock included books and other media on the history, politics, languages, literature, and philosophies of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. I had responsibility for all aspects of the department: meeting publishers’ reps and taking in new stock; entering new book records into the database and ensuring accuracy of existing records; shelving books on a daily basis; ‘stock picking’ for customer orders and library supplies; annual stock checking; dealing with customer enquiries by phone, email and in person; preparing book displays for conferences and attending same; and working at the cash register as required.

As a Cambridge institution, Heffers was frequented by students, academics and tourists, as well as celebrities who attended for talks and book signings. I built strong relationships with many of these people, and was known to ‘go the extra mile’ in customer service, sometimes literally as I delivered books to college fellows on my cycle home, which was faster than sending them through the shop’s delivery system. I received excellent feedback, usually verbal but sometimes written.

During the time I was at Heffers I attended a talk hosted by the local branch of the Scientific and Medical Network, of which I was a member. The talk was given by writer John Cornwell. He subsequently asked me to assist him in his role as Director of a non-profit ‘public understanding of science’ body based in Jesus College, where he was a fellow. This was the Science and Human Dimension Project. My part-time role involved office management, library research, copy editing, and conference organisation. Our conferences were attended by leading academics and media gatekeepers. In this role I often had to work independently, as Mr Cornwell frequently travelled overseas, although he relied on me to check post, email and phone messages. Conferences were, by contrast, times of frenetic activity.

Through bookselling I became interested in publishing, and successfully applied for a job advertised in The Bookseller. It was with a small company called The Running Head, which offered editorial and production services to major UK publishers. My duties were of two kinds: I ‘project managed’ books from typescript stage, through copy-editing, typesetting, proofreading and indexing, to print-ready PDFs; I also copy-edited author typescripts myself. The project management role involved overseeing the entire process, including creation of a timeline that was communicated to publishers and a team of freelance copy-editors, proofreaders, and indexers. Editing authors’ work, on the other hand, required a different skill set, including an ability to analyse and clarify meaning, and tact in suggesting clearer and more felicitous expression. As a project manager I occasionally had to pacify an irate author, who took exception to the work of an inexperienced freelance copy-editor.

This position involved smart use of technology. Non-negotiable copy-editing changes were carried out using global changes in the word processor, often combining multiple search–replace tasks in macros. This produced a ‘clean’ typescript with double line-spacing, and consecutive page and line numbering, all for ease of reference. This updated document was then used for manual copy-editing with red ink. It was also essential to save versions according to date, so that the whole process was auditable. This was particularly useful in instances such as those mentioned at the end of the previous paragraph, where it was necessary to detect where a particular change had been made.

Attention to detail, computer and organisation skills, time management, tact, and effective communication were all clearly crucial in this job. The position provided a good balance of team and independent work. There were days when I spent hours on my own in the office, copy-editing a book, with occasional interruptions from freelancers and couriers. At other times the office was a hive of activity. There were also occasional meetings with major publishers, in Cambridge, Oxford, and London.

After two years in the job, in 2001 I was offered a position at Griffin Brown Digital Publishing, another small Cambridge company offering services to publishers. Here the focus was less on ‘content’ and more on ‘structure’, as Griffin Brown’s customers were in the process of encoding their books and journals in Extensible Markup Language (XML). My role was to analyse sample text provided by publishers and liaise with them in the production of a ‘Document Type Definition’ (DTD) for their content. The purpose was to ‘future proof’ the content so that it could be re-used in multiple print and digital formats. This involved attending meetings with existing and prospective clients.

It was in this role that I became familiar with Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), a coding system with origins in IBM’s attempts to share documents between computers. SGML was later adopted by publishers to encode books and articles for markup. With the arrival of the Internet, one application of SGML (i.e. HTML) was used to encode content for display in web browsers. XML was later developed as a web-friendly and more usable version of SGML. This knowledge enabled me to design and modify websites using native HTML, as opposed to proprietary web-design programs. I also learnt some basic programming with Python.

Perth

In 2003 I moved to Perth with my wife and two pre-school children. For the next few years I was the primary carer for the latter. Once they were both at school I took on some casual tutoring in Philosophy and Ethics at the University of Notre Dame in Fremantle (2006).

From January 2007 until June 2008 I was Course Coordinator at the University of Western Australia’s Extension department, offering short courses to members of the public. I had particular responsibility for Intellectual Adventures (usually Philosophy and History), Languages, and Writing and Communication. My tasks there included soliciting new and repeat courses from existing and new presenters; programming course and presenter details into an SQL database (the source for our seasonal electronic and print brochures); printing and sending contracts (and associated documents) and filing them on return; liaising with presenters and the Extension delivery team to ensure efficient course delivery; dealing with enquiries from presenters and the public; taking enrolments (including payment); and quality controlling courses by personal attendance, checking feedback forms, and dealing with complaints. This role involved a combination of customer service, effective written and verbal communication, computer skills, prioritisation of tasks, working to deadlines, attention to detail, an interest in intellectual and artistic pursuits, and the ability to work independently as well as in a team.

In July 2008 I started a 12-month contract as Senior Research Officer in the Vice-Chancellery at UWA, where I reported directly to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Education. This was a very busy time for those in leadership positions at UWA, as the University had embarked on an extensive review of its course structures, which concluded during my time there. My support role was very varied, reflecting the portfolio of the DVC (Education). I had weekly meetings with him to discuss the progress of various projects. I received ‘record awareness’ training and was inducted into the University’s electronic record-keeping software. I also received ‘executive officer’ (EO) training, which prepared me for the task of EO on several committees and working parties. The latter involved preparation of agendas and associated documents, organisation of refreshments, and recording of minutes. I was expected to keep abreast of developments in the tertiary education sector, and conduct research into various aspects of tertiary education. I was involved in the preparation of correspondence, papers, publications, reports, speeches, and submissions. (On one memorable occasion, when the DVC was preparing a speech for the Faculty of Medicine, I was asked to read original documents in the University Archive pertaining to the establishment of the Faculty in the 1950s.) I liaised with colleagues in the Equity and Diversity Office, where I was involved in preparing a successful submission for Commonwealth funding, which led to the establishment of AspireUWA.

This Level-8 position required an ability to relate to colleagues in diverse roles across the university, as well as external stakeholders. Therefore excellent written and verbal communication skills, as well as discretion and observance of confidentiality, were essential. It required effective organisation and task prioritisation, as well as attention to detail. It required broad computer skills. An interest in tertiary education, and an ability to conduct research, were both necessary. Finally, the position involved a capacity to work independently as well as in a team.

During my 12-month contract as Senior Research Officer, UWA announced a new ‘Master of Teaching (Primary)’ degree. I enrolled in the course at the beginning of 2009, and combined study and work until my contract expired at the end of June. I enjoyed my studies and achieved high distinctions in several units, including Teaching and Learning with New Technologies. Part of this unit involved establishing a blog, which I have maintained to this day. I had been a registered Wikipedia editor since 2006, but started creating my own educational wikis during my course. My IT skills were developing in new directions.

It was at this time that I became involved with the Western Australian Association for Philosophy in Schools (APIS). I was a committee member from 2009 and Secretary from 2010 to 2014. APIS is part of a global movement committed to the promotion of philosophy in schools, through publication, lectures, professional development, and exam writing. Several of the committee members had succeeded in getting Philosophy onto the high-school curriculum, and had written the textbooks. APIS also supported the inter-school Philosothon competition that originated in Hale School in 2007. It has since become an Australasian competition, and also has a primary-school counterpart. I participated as facilitator and judge over several years. In addition to those activities, I ran my own philosophy clubs, aimed at upper-primary children.

On completion of my course, I worked as a casual teacher for three terms in Hale, teaching in the ‘Philosophy, Values, Religion’ department. The following year (2012) I started working in the upper-primary (Years 4–6) at Perth Montessori School, which my own children had attended some years previously. As a teacher I used and developed many of the skills I had acquired throughout my career to date. Teaching core subjects according to the curriculum was only the beginning, although it did involve the ability to plan, deliver and assess content. Communication was central to this role, with students, parents, colleagues, and other professionals outside the school. I presented at Parent Education Evenings and Open Mornings, and delivered speeches at commencement ceremonies. I planned class excursions (including to libraries and The Literature Centre in Fremantle) and incursions according to deadlines. I attended professional development workshops (including First Aid). I ran a lunchtime philosophy club in the school. I used IT extensively, in delivering lessons, recording student data, and communicating with colleagues. I ensured that my students used Google Drive, Google Classroom and Khan Academy. I also taught elementary Python to select students.

Summary

Ideally a career represents a meaningful development of skills in the context of varied roles. Different roles will elicit different skills, or even different aspects of the same skill (for example, communicating with children is different to communicating with adults). Skills are often interdependent, and also cannot really be separated from the personality of an individual (again, one individual may have a distinctive sense of humour that colours his communication skills). For this reason I have presented my own skills in the context of my biography, where they are in a process of continual development. With that proviso in mind, a list of my ‘skills’ could be enumerated as follows:

  • Customer service
  • Communication (written and verbal)
  • Analytical thinking and problem solving
  • Accuracy and attention to detail
  • Broad computer skills
  • Organisation and task prioritisation
  • Ability to manage a team
  • Ability to relate to a wide variety of people, including academics, children, and young adults
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Sensitivity in dealing with others (tact, diplomacy and observance of confidentiality)
  • An interest in the humanities generally, but also in the arts and sciences

 


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